A slightly different version of this article originally appeared on VICE Spain
Fainting, heavy breathing, cardiopulmonary collapse and, in some extreme cases, even death. These are some of the consequences of a heatstroke, but also of excessive drug use. Reading that Tuesday, the 13th of September is expected to be the hottest September day Britain has seen in 50 or so years, I wondered what could happen if the two were combined.
Claudio Vidal works for Energy Control – an NGO working to reduce the risks of recreational drug use. I called him up to ask which substances are the most dangerous in a heatwave and what to do if one of your friends does a little too much coke in the 32C heat.
VICE: What are the risks of doing drugs in high temperatures?
Claudio Vidal: The thing that happens most often in a heatwave is that people faint – and that is common among cannabis users. But awful as it is, fainting is not life-threatening.
The best thing to do in this case, is keep that person lying down but with their legs in the air. It is not advisable to give them anything to drink or eat, since this might cause nausea and vomit.
What happens if you use psychedelic substances in a heatwave?
Psychedelics are different, more sensitive to bodily sensations. In extreme heat, the experience of these drugs will probably be less pleasant, and could cause the user to freak out. But they do not carry any real health risks.
What is the worst-case scenario of using drugs in the middle of a heatwave?
A heatstroke, which is very serious because it could prove deadly. Uppers – ecstasy, amphetamine and cocaine – are most likely to cause this. At the same time, when ecstasy (MDMA) related deaths occur, they are usually a result of overheating ('heatstroke').
How can someone avoid a heatstroke if they are going to use drugs?
They must try not to add more risk factors to their experience, such as strenuous exercise or dancing for a long period of time. And of course make sure to drink enough water, because the use of stimulants such as cocaine increases body heat generation and might interfere with the heat transfer process. That prevents our body from sweating properly and at the same time causes dehydration. A cool beer might feel refreshing, but it won't hydrate you. In those cases, it's important not to drink any alcohol, which is probably the greatest risk factor.
Also, take frequent breaks when you're partying. Go to cooler and shady places, drink isotonic drinks and moderate the consumption of other stimulants.
How can we tell if someone is suffering a heatstroke?
If their temperature is higher than 40 degrees, they are probably having a heatstroke. In that case, the body is unable to evacuate the heat. Also, if they seem dazed or their breathing is really fast. A person with glazed eyes or slow reflexes is very likely to be suffering a heatstroke – whether drug induced or not. The first thing you should do is call 999. Meanwhile, you can try to cool the person down – but do not give them anything to drink. If they are unconscious, they might choke.
What symptoms could mistakingly make us think we are in danger?
Profuse sweating. This is not necessarily bad, since it means the body is regulating its temperature. The problem would be if you stopped sweating. In any case, you have to take care to restore the amount of liquid lost.
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